Companion Planting for Pest Control – Bugged Out With BFF’s

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My seven year old daughter and I are besties. We pinkie promise each other every day that we’ll see each other after school. We do sleepovers in each other’s rooms on weekends, and we build and share completely obnoxious ice cream sundaes in buckets. I remind her that it’s time to brush her teeth, and she reminds me that it’s time to play a game. We’ve got each other’s backs. And we love to plant our garden together. So, when I shared with her that some of the plants in our garden were missing their best friends and that they needed to be saved from the cooties, she was all over it.

No Bugs Allowed!

Just like people are more compatible with some folks than with others, so are plants. And there are even some plants that keep their companions healthier and more productive, just like besties. For plants and people, the fewer debilitating bugs, the better, right?

While I’m not a superstitious sort, I’ve never planted tomato plants without a side accompaniment of marigolds. According to my granny years and years ago, the scent of marigolds creep out many of the creepy crawlies that might otherwise annihilate the tomatoes. Turns out Gram was right, because nowadays there are books and books out there about complimentary plants to grow together for pest control and what plants should never be seen together in public OR in the privacy of a backyard garden bed. Personally, I’ve been saved from the shock of slicing into a tomato and finding squirmy little foes lurking inside thanks to my granny’s marigold nugget of gardening wisdom.

Our watchdog marigolds looking out for our tomatoes.
Our watchdog marigolds looking out for our tomatoes.

Even before modern day old timers developed their lists of companion plants, Native Americans knew a thing or two about which plants complement each other. For example, the Iroquois tribe planted beans, squash, and corn together. The corn provided a trellis for the beans to grow on, and the beans anchored the corn to the ground. Meanwhile, the spikey vines of the squash plants kept invaders from accessing the rows, which offered defensive protection and a win for all. Happy, happy, happy.

So, my little girl and I have set out to plant some best friends forever in our garden this season in honor of all those who have gone before and who recognized the benefits of content and harmonious plants.

First, we planted the traditional marigolds to protect our beloved tomatoes. Turns out, modern day research shows that marigolds work above ground to keep pests away from ALL garden vegetable plants – not just tomatoes. And they work below the soil, too, to keep the roots of the plants around them insect free. That’s a double squish for those icky insects!

We planted chives next to our soon-to-be peas. The chives are known to improve the flavor of the peas. And chives, like marigolds, keep aphids at bay, so they are good companions for other veggies, too.

Chives and peas go together even better than peas and carrots- in the garden!
Chives and peas go together even better than peas and carrots- in the garden!

We surrounded our eggplant with pepper plants. Eggplants and pepper plants use similar nutrients from the soil, and they like the same amount of water, which makes them easy to grow together and keeps them vigorous.

We planted our lettuce and onions together simply because onions repel pests. I’ve wished all lettuce growers would just throw in an onion or two in their crop. I once found a live snail in my “triple washed” store bought lettuce. Surprise! If the growers had only had an onion!

Behind our cucumber mounds, we planted some Mammoth sunflowers. The sunflowers provide some welcome shade for the cucumbers and a trellis if the cucumbers feel like climbing. We planted our pumpkins with the cucumbers and the sunflowers too, simply because we love pumpkins and sunflowers together in the fall.

Rosemary will keep the eventual carrots nice and stout.
Rosemary will keep the eventual carrots nice and stout.

Finally, we planted our carrots in a container along with some rosemary. The rosemary will prevent carrot flies, and planting the carrots in a container will keep them up and away from the local posse of rabbits.

These are only a few of our favorite complimentary planting ideas. Some of these are just tradition, based on the trial and error of some gardening gurus from days gone by. Others are motivated entirely by aesthetics. Some are backed by research that supports the idea that plants can be healthier and more resilient to pests with certain companions, while others might be considered old wives’ tales. Gardening mythology or not, in our garden we believe in friendship and support for better overall defense, which is why we besties, my daughter and I, take the time to consider who needs who in our garden to keep those cooties out!

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About Amy

Amy spent her early years roaming a neighbor's corn field, much to her parents' distress, and eating tomatoes like apples in her Midwest grandmother's garden. She learned to snap green beans like a machine by the tender age of four. Later, as a Colorado gal, she battled the elements and finally had success growing a celebratory rhubarb plant in a high altitude garden setting. At that point, there was no turning back. She gave in to her green thumb and, in order of priority, is currently growing vegetables, flowers, kids, and pets on the high plains south of Denver.

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